When he moved to Vancouver to continue his engineering studies, Ben De Wit wasn’t planning on becoming an internationally competing athlete, it just turned out that way.
After graduating from Nakusp Secondary, De Wit joined friends going to Thompson University in Kamloops where he enrolled in the UBC engineering transfer program.
“I started rowing here at UBC in 2009,” De Wit told the Arrow Lakes News, a sport he’d never tried before.
Thanks to an aggressive recruitment campaign promoted by Ben Rutledge, the first-year rowing coach and gold-medal Olympian from Cranbrook, De Wit was introduced to the sport via the learning to row program at UBC. Finding recruits to the team wasn’t the hard part; getting them to stay was.
“There were around 40 guys who joined initially,” De Wit recalled, “then it went down to 15, then to six, and at the end there were two. Usually they recruit 20 guys and hope they stick around.”
In high school, he had played on school basketball and hockey teams as well as part of the Nakusp Falcons but had never tried rowing. As part of the Junior Varsity team, he took part in a few fun races and discovered a new sport. In a short amount of time, he was competing at an international level.
After his exams in May last year, De Wit joined the Canadian rowing team in Victoria and in June he took part in the tryouts for the under-23 category. From there, he started training for the men’s pairs, and competed in the World Championships in Europe.
“I hadn’t done much travelling until I got into rowing,” said De Wit; now the athlete has competed in Oklahoma City, San Diego, Belgium, Amsterdam and Mexico. But travel doesn’t mean sightseeing. During a week-long training session in preparation for the World Championships this summer, the team had a total of one free afternoon. De Wit wisely decided to take a little more time off and spent an extra week in Frankfurt with his girlfriend.
Ben de Wit just recently returned to his Mining Engineering classes after competing in the Pan-American Games held in Guzman, Mexico last month. He and his rowing team mates won silver in the international competition there.
This year, De Wit is completing his degree, and has had to find the balance between classes and athletic competition. When classes started in September this year, he was still living in Victoria training with the team going to the Pan American Games in Mexico.
“I only have a few classes left before I graduate,” De Wit said, so he talked with his professors and arranged to work on his classes online while he was away. It paid off, with the Canadian team winning silver.
University is also the reason that De Wit won’t be competing in the upcoming Olympics.
“They’re training right now,” he said about the Olympic team, and added that if he wanted to join them, well, “I’d have to drop out.”
Variety keeps training interesting, and the athlete rows in crews of two up to eight, and enjoys switching it up.
“It’s good to be in a training group,” De Wit said, who finds working in different teams keeps it challenging as well as inspiring.
“Really, I’m looking to improve to be on the seniors team,” said De Wit.
In the next year, De Wit will be turning 23, and ready to join the senior men’s team. That means two rowing practises a day as well as the two or three weight-training days per week will turn into three rowing practises per day plus gym time, leaving Sundays free for resting.
When asked about injuries common to rowing, De Wit’s surprising answer was fractures to the ribs.
“Usually rowers have really really strong legs and core,” he told the Arrow Lakes News.
“It’s like they’re too powerful for their own good,” explained De Wit, with the trouble coming “if you take a stroke a little bit different.” When that happens, the powerful muscles around the ribs move to compensate, and the force they exert can crack ribs. De Wit has been fortunate enough not to experience any injuries himself, however.
Revealing both his team-oriented and adaptive nature, De Wit has clearly enjoyed the serendipitous turns in both his university and athletic paths.
“I didn’t necessarily know I wanted to do mining,” he revealed, “but it’s like anything. I enjoy rowing and mining engineering because I enjoy the people who are doing it.”